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1Medieval thought is lateral: to explain the world of divine creation, it extends in all directions into a system of infinite correspondences based on similarities between heaven and earth. ὄψις γὰρ τῶν ἀδήλων ἀδήλων τὰ τὰ φαινόμενα, Invisibilia per visibilia : St Paul cites Anaxagoras and St Augustine refers to St Paul to encourage each author to know more about "the nature and properties of things" in the biblical text.

Ignorance of things, too, renders figurative expressions obscure, as when we do not know the nature of the animals, or minerals, or plants, which are frequently referred to in Scripture by way of comparison. The fact so well known about the serpent, for example, that to protect its head it will present its whole body to its assailants — how much light it throws upon the meaning of our Lord's command, that we should be wise as serpents (Matthew 10 :16) that is to say, that for the sake of our head, which is Christ, we should willingly offer our body to the persecutors, lest the Christian faith should, as it were, be destroyed in us, if to save the body we deny our God! Or again, the statement that the serpent gets rid of its old skin by squeezing itself through a narrow hole, and thus acquires new strength — how appropriately it fits in with the direction to imitate the wisdom of the serpent, and to put off the old man, as the apostle says, that we may put on the new (Ephesians 4:22 ; Colossians 3.9.10) and to put it off, too, by coming through a narrow place, according to the saying of our Lord, « Enter ye in at the strait gate »! (Matth. 7 :13) As, then, knowledge of the nature of the serpent throws light upon many metaphors which Scripture is accustomed to draw from that animal, so ignorance of other animals, which are no less frequently mentioned by way of comparison, is a very great drawback to the reader. And so in regard to minerals and plants: knowledge of the carbuncle, for instance, which shines in the dark, throws light upon many of the dark places in books too, where it is used metaphorically; and ignorance of the beryl or the adamant often shuts the doors of knowledge.
(Augustine, De doctrina christiana, II.16.24, transl. http://www.newadvent.org/​fathers/​12022.htm )

What, then, some men have done in regard to all words and names found in Scripture, (…) , the same, I think, might be done in regard to other matters, if any competent man were willing in a spirit of benevolence to undertake the labor for the advantage of his brethren. In this way he might arrange in their several classes, and give an account of the unknown places, and animals, and plants, and trees, and stones, and metals, and other species of things that are mentioned in Scripture (…)
(Augustine, De doctrina christiana, II.39.59, transl. http://www.newadvent.org/​fathers/​12022.htm )

2In the first half of the 13th century, the task of “describing the nature and properties of things,” the mirroring/speculum of created nature, was embraced by authors of teaching compilations, known today as encyclopaedias. They claim it in their prologues. They will follow Augustine's exhortation, bringing together all the authors and sacred and secular works (auctoritates) that evoke the natural world. Once quotations from this varied documentation have been collected (flores), they will write them down for their community, for “fraternal utility”. To educate others on a created world revealed by Scripture, these “natural philosophers” will expose the realities and physical forces of Nature that prevail in the universe, using the studies of mineralogy, botany, zoology, medicine, astronomy transmitted by ancient philosophers, the Fathers of the Church, treatises translated from Greek and Arabic, and contemporary doctors and theologians. Secular scientific and literary content (philosophy, literature, history) and religious content (hagiography, doctrine, canon law) thus coexist in encyclopedias that constitute abbreviated libraries and offer a complete panorama of available knowledge.

  • 1 Proverb (13th century): H. Walther, Proverbia sententiaeque Latinitatis Medii Aevi: Lateinische Spr (...)
  • 2 Constat tamen quod verba sacra in rebus naturalibus multam habent efficaciam. In tribus enim dicunt (...)

3In petris, herbis, vis est, sed maxima verbis1. As this contemporary proverb says, encyclopedists, attentive to the natural forces they describe, also want to allow their readers to teach others by the force and authority of words written in new works or spoken in the pulpit. This “performative word”, fed by scholarly compilations on nature, is par excellence the mission of preachers. In a well-known quotation on the power of words, Thomas de Chobbam, the theologian who wrote a “Summa on the art of preaching” (c. 1220), uses a natural metaphor to affirm the intrinsic power of the word of God: it acts as a “spiritual mandrake” for the brothers, with the natural effectiveness of words that reinforce the virtue of a plant or a stone: “we know well that sacred words have great effectiveness in natural materials. Indeed, the natural philosophers say that natural force is mainly concentrated in three things: in words, plants and stones. We know a little about the virtues of plants and stones, but we know almost nothing about the virtues of words”2. Medieval encyclopaedias were also written by “natural philosophers” as a documentary reservoir for the use of everyday theologians.

  • 3 This is the objective of the SourcEncyMe program (Sources of medieval encyclopedias) sourcencyme.ir (...)

4In our era, they have been studied mainly for their scientific content because, once identified, it gives access to all the scholarship available in the contemporary libraries of time and makes it possible to reconstruct the latter. However, it is necessary to distinguish the successive layers of accumulated sources and the chain of authors3. The value of the “updated” information in these rich compilations from the first half of the 13th century diminished over time with the renewal of science. While scientifically or philosophically deficient, the information nevertheless retained its exegetical effectiveness, judging by the numerous reuses by the encyclopaedias of the 14th and 15th centuries, which include the symbolic, allegorical and moral correspondences in their chapters on nature, like “ready-to-wear” phrases for new compilers.

5The contributions collected in this first issue illustrate the rich cultural and scientific phenomenon of medieval encyclopedism by focusing on its sources of information. This first issue of RursuSpicae dedicates (Rursus + Spicae under number 11 of Rursus) the merger of two journals dedicated to the transmission of knowledge and its reuse and rewriting. The marriage was decided in 2016, but was delayed until the Atelier Vincent de Beauvais de Nancy had moved to IRHT and the previously planned volumes of Rursus had been published, which is now the case.

6In the first article, Marie-Agnès Avenel explores the typology of aquatic creatures in the two books devoted to them by Thomas de Cantimpré, and shows that the boundary between sea monsters and fish is not clearly drawn, because the author of Liber de natura rerum, who travelled along the shores of the North Sea, the Channel, and the Atlantic, had difficulty classifying the ichthyologic information provided by centuries of scientific literature and comparing it with contemporary observations. The second article is the work of Mattia Cipriani. It analyzes the use of scientific questions and answers by the same author, influenced by the Salerno model, and identifies all the sources used, in particular those in medecin.

7The in-depth examination of all the scientific and philosophical sources of astronomy and cosmology in Book VIII of the De proprietatibus rerum of Bartholomew the Englishman is the subject of a contribution by Isabelle Draelants and Eduard Frunzeanu. This work shows that to compose his book on the terrestrial and celestial universe, Bartholomew collected, and transmitted with relative accuracy, very recent scientific sources: Robert Grosseteste, Michel Scot, Arnold of Saxony and the Experimentator are among them. Bartholomew suppresses the author’s name most of the time, preferring to borrow this primary bibliographical references or “citation markers”, suggesting that he himself had read Isidore of Seville or Ptolemy. For the compiler, accurately locating the origin of the information would be less important than being able to exploit natural matter, as is already done in marginal glosses that give allegorical equivalents or comparisons with the contemporary ecclesiastical world.

8In the field of homiletic reception of encyclopedic matter, almost everything remains to be done. Sophie Delmas gives some examples of the use of natural encyclopedias that she has found in the work of Eustache d’Arras, Guibert de Tournai and Nicoluccio di Ascoli. The exploration continues and deepens thanks to Adrienne Hamy, who is particularly interested in the link between encyclopedism and homiletics and has edited the sermons on the Virgin Mary by Juan Gil de Zamora in her recent PhD. Here she compares the use of the materia naturalis in the preaching of the Spanish Franciscan with that of his Italian contemporary Marcus of Orvieto. Finally, Irene Villaroel, who has recently taken an interest in the anthology of moral literature in Books IV and V of Vincent de Beauvais' Speculum doctrinale and its Spanish reception, bridges the gap between the two aims of 13th-century author-compilers: the description of the properties of nature and moral exhortation. In these two books, which also had a life that was separate from the Speculum maius, she elucidates the hidden sources of Vincent de Beauvais. The so-called actor here compiles the auctoritates in two books filled with moral quotations from classical authors, like so many bricks collected from ancient buildings and reinvented to build new walls of the medieval Christian citadel.

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Notes

1 Proverb (13th century): H. Walther, Proverbia sententiaeque Latinitatis Medii Aevi: Lateinische Sprichwörter und Sentenzen des Mittelalters in alphabetischer Anordnung, Göttingen, 6 vol. 1963-1969: n°2748, 7310, 11787, 11927, 14224, 14515, 30325, 33662, 33675, 33677.

2 Constat tamen quod verba sacra in rebus naturalibus multam habent efficaciam. In tribus enim dicunt physici precipuam vim vim nature esse constitutam : in verbis et herbis et in lapidibus. De virtute enim herbarum et lapidum aliquidum scimus, de virtute verborum parum vel nichil novimus (Thomas de Chobbam, Summa confessorum, ed. F. Broomfield, Louvain, 1968, p. 478).

3 This is the objective of the SourcEncyMe program (Sources of medieval encyclopedias) sourcencyme.irht.cnrs.fr, which puts encyclopedic texts online to identify the sources of each of the citations and the vehicles for their transmission.

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Isabelle Draelants, « Editorial (English) », Rursus-Spicae [En ligne], 11 | 2017, mis en ligne le 24 septembre 2018, consulté le 20 octobre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rursus/1643

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Isabelle Draelants

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